What leads, urges, even compels so many of us to be creatively expressive?
Given that everyone is creative to some degree, why do many people choose careers in the arts, or work that actively engages their creativity?
Most of us will never be actors or other filmmakers – especially ones that are seen and acknowledged publicly – but many of those creators talk about what calls them to engage in creative work, despite the challenges.
One example: Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress on March 2, 2014 for her role in “12 Years a Slave.”
In her moving acceptance speech, she noted one source of inspiration for her portrayal of a slave: “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance.”
She also thanked director Steve McQueen: “You charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life.”
Wilson thinks that with our “feel good” culture and the “widespread use of happy drugs, everybody’s trying to be cheerful and there are no decent dollops of melancholy and sadness. When this happens, art becomes bland, unchallenging and redundant.”
Genn notes, “Dr. Thomas Svolos of the department of Psychiatry at Creighton University School of Medicine thinks Wilson is right. ‘When you’re melancholy, you tend to step back and examine your life,’ he says. ‘That kind of questioning is essential for creativity.’
Maybe you kept a diary – or still do. Or use a notebook as a helpful tool for personal growth, to track thinking and inspiration.
Artists, as well as entrepreneurs and other creative people, often use storyboards, journals, mindmapping and other idea tools for developing creative projects.
As a child or teenager, we were perhaps more freely creative, but as supposed “grown-ups” we face fears and uncertainties about our talents, or the marketplace value of a particular form of expression, or what our investing in a project means – both for us, and others.
Some forms of creative work may have structures and guidelines to follow, at least during some stages, but at some point the venture is, well, creative. You need to make things up.
There can be many inner threats and challenges to all these aspects of creating.
Author Milli Thornton describes one example: a CPA who kept shutting off his dream to write.
“If I hadn’t visualized playing athletes, I wouldn’t have gotten ‘Major League.’ If I hadn’t visualized playing a president, David Palmer never would have happened.”
Creating visualizations of what you want to accomplish can be a powerful strategy for achievement, according to many writers, coaches and research studies.
Perhaps the most research has been about athletes and sport psychology, but artists can use the techniques and approaches as well.
Actor Dennis Haysbert has portrayed a variety of dynamic characters in film (such as “Jarhead”) and television (including “24″ and “The Unit”), and says, “I visualize the roles that I want.
“You’ve got to have a sense of what you want to do; otherwise, the universe is just going to throw something at you.”
[TV Guide, July 3-9 2006.]
In her article Awakening the Senses, creativity coach Linda Dessau writes about the book “How to think like Leonardo da Vinci” by Michael Gelb, particularly the “Sensazione” chapter, which Dessau notes “is dedicated to re-awakening and sharpening each of the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.”
She adds, “Gelb offers lots of exercises in this chapter to help you awaken your senses. My favourite is ‘Subtle Speculation: The Art of Visualization’.”
Creating may be at times a collaboration, and it can be helpful to get input from others about your work, but a number of artists also say they create primarily to please themselves, to realize their own unique creative inspirations.
Also, criticism from others can be destructive and self-limiting, eroding our creative assurance and vitality, especially if it is based on excessive perfectionism or values that you, the creator, may not hold.
Creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel has even declared, “Criticism is a real crippler.”
From my post: Toxic Criticism and Developing Creativity.
Hugh MacLeod, a brand consultant, copywriter and cartoonist, has made available (for free) a stimulating PDF: “How To Be Creative” – here are some excerpts from the beginning:
“The function of artists is to keep people childlike in a positive way. To keep open to the world.”
Viggo Mortensen continues,
“Apart from traveling to different countries, to different communities, to different parts of your city, I think that art is one of the greatest anti-war and anti-poverty weapons.”
His quote comes from a video interview: “Viggo Mortensen Meets Alex Jones.”
Here is a clip – follow the link above to see the full interview on Youtube.
“For an artist, it is a driven pursuit, whether we acknowledge this or not, that endless search for meaning.” Dianne Albin
Like passion, meaning is another central element in how we choose which of our talents to develop and express. Finding and making meaning is especially crucial for creative people.
Painter Dianne Albin continues, “Each work we attempt poses the same questions. Perhaps this time I will see more clearly, understand something more.
“That is why I think that the attempt always feels so important, for the answers we encounter are only partial and not always clear.
“Yet at its very best, one work of art, whether produced by oneself or another, offers a sense of possibility that flames the mind and the spirit, and in that moment we know this is a life worth pursuing, a struggle that offers the possibility of answers as well as meaning.”
A painter, cartoonist, and writer, among other disciplines, Lynda Barry served as an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin last year, and is now an assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity.
“I make my husband call me [Professor Barry],” she joked in an NPR interview.
“I tried to get my dogs to call me Professor Barry, but they have trouble with P’s.”
She commented on thinking about how people “have given up on the arts totally. But if they’re with a baby or with a toddler, most of them will sing, dance, make sculptures that you knock down, draw, tell stories, all these things that we call the arts. They’ll do that with a kid.
“And which is sort of interesting. And then I like to ask people why do you think that is, and one of the things they often say is because babies aren’t judgmental.
“Well yeah they are. You can wear the wrong shirt, and they’ll lose their minds.”
Writers J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others discussed religious and literary ideas and their own works in progress in a famed discussion group, the Inklings, which met regularly at Lewis’ college rooms at Oxford or in pubs, in the 1930s and 40s.
Of course, writers groups, support groups based on Julia Cameron’s classic book The Artist’s Way, and similar gatherings still enable creative collaboration and feedback from others.
Psychologist Paul Paulus has researched the value of group ‘brainwriting’ in which “group members write their ideas on paper and pass them to others in the group who then add their own ideas to the list,” as writer Amy Novotney summarizes.
She adds that in a study led by Paulus, “an interactive group of brainwriters produced 28 percent more possible uses for a paper clip than a similar group of solitary brainwriters. This may be because group members tend to build off one another’s ideas, leading to increased creativity and innovation. The effects of group brainwriting may even extend to groups that collaborate via e-mail, Paulus notes.”